A whole host of issues impacting freight transportation and logistics, including tariffs, capacity, market conditions and others, were front and center at the SMC3 Connections CEO panel yesterday in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The panel, entitled “Conversations with Leadership, was moderated by Logistics Management and featured four C-level trucking and transportation executives: Bob Biesterfeld, CEO, C.H. Robinson; Rob Estes, president and CEO, Estes Express Lines Inc.; Darren Hawkins, president and CEO, YRC Worldwide; and Dan Van Alstine president and COO, Ruan.
Looking at market conditions, the consensus among the panelists was that things are not nearly as rosy compared to a year ago at this time.
Estes labeled conditions as flat, noting that while GDP is growing, that growth is not occurring in goods moved on trucks. And he also noted that flat conditions do not indicate business is humming along, with some Estes terminals up 30% and others seeing high double digit declines.
YRC’s Hawkins pointed to difficult annual comparisons that can make things look, or seem, worse than they really are. And Ruan’s Van Alstine labeled the current market outlook as uneven, unpredictable, and uncertain, adding that various indices indicate the worst may be in the past.
Another concern identified by the CEO panelists included the ongoing combination of trade tension and tariffs, with YRC’s Hawkins calling it a “whipsaw we are seeing from a tariff perspective,” coupled with the uncertainty it brings.
He added that uncertainty is on display, in the form of some shippers increasing inventory counts, whereas others are not. And that, he said, is leading carriers to “shift and adjust capacity based on uncertainty,” which is less than favorable.
That was echoed by CHRW’s Biesterfeld, who added that trade-related issues are bringing confusion to his company’s customers trying to assess the current situation. Biesterfeld also cited the inventory dilemma trade tension is creating, noting there are myriad questions relating to how U.S. shippers should be managing inventory.
During the session, the audience participated in a live poll regarding prospects for the 2019 Peak Season. Nearly 56% of the poll’s respondents indicate that peak season will be less active this year, with almost 31% saying it will be the same as last year, and nearly 14% saying it will be more active.
Addressing Peak Season, Estes explained that the perception of it has changed, in that, for LTL, it formerly was viewed as a spring event, with consumers buying things like home improvement goods. But now, he said, it actually go on into the summer and to Black Friday. Estes also pointed out that month-end and quarter-end periods are considered peak times, too.